This evening was all about the frontmen: Four dudes whose magnetism is mesmerizing and whose talent is astounding.
While the openers Lo-Pan were not a widely recognizable name, the Columbus OH quartet will definitely be one after this tour. Putting on an incredible set of groove-oriented classic hard rock, singer Jeff Martin, who didn't need theatrics to make a lasting impression, blew it out of the park with his incredible, soulful vocals, bringing any audience members hanging at the bar to the front of the stage.
Kevin Sharpe, known for his vocal duties with grind masters Brutal Truth, entered the stage with his bandmates from Atlanta's Primate in his standard stage gear — a floppy cowboy hat and bare feet — and proceeded to rip up the stage. While the band, also consisting of Mastodon's Bill Kelliher, were marred by sound problems, muting the best elements of their grind-infused hardcore, they ripped through their set, primarily consisting of tracks from their debut, 2012's excellent Draw Back a Stump, and some additional Black Flag covers.
Unfortunately, sound issues also marred NOLA's Goatwhore, but after battling with the soundboard, guitarist Sammy Duet said to singer Ben Falgoust, "Fuck this. Let's do it," and they proceeded to put on one of the best sets they have done in Toronto in years.
For those who weren't into blackened thrash metal, they certainly appreciated it after the band's set, as these guys are all about the live performance. Was it a tad on the theatrical? Based on the metal-studded armbands, bullet belts and overabundance of hair windmills, yes. But their set was so energetic and fun one wondered if the super-intense Falgoust was going to collapse after he left the stage. Blood from the Master's "Judgment of the Bleeding Crown" and "Silence Marked by the Breaking of Bone" from 2006's A Haunting Curse were highlights, but the crowd erupted for their closer, fan favourite "Apocalyptic Havoc" from 2009's Carving Out the Eyes of God.
When Matt Pike took the stage, the crowd went wild, happy to see High on Fire's frontman back behind a guitar (a brand spanking new Les Paul). The crowd also benefitted from his new sobriety as the power trio, who seemed tighter and sharper than ever, put on a mind-shatteringly great performance, cementing Pike's reputation for being one of the best guitarists on the planet.
They opened with "Serums of Liao" from their latest De Vermis Mysteriis, and as their debut, 2000's The Art of Self-Defense, was reissued this year, they performed that record's "10,000 Years" and "Last." Other songs included "Devilution," from 2005's Blessed Black Wings, and the instrumental "Dll," from 2007's Death Is This Communion. As High on Fire weren't able to aggressively promote De Vermis Mysteriis this summer due to Pike's alcohol troubles, the well-curated show served as not only a fitting "welcome back" but also a lucky charm for all four bands in 2013.